Andrea Blair is big on accepting her students as they are.
The music director at Gordon Head middle school, who also teaches elementary strings programs at Torquay, has developed an atmosphere of teaching and learning in which her students thrive.
“In my music room, a lot of kids consider it a safe place and feel they can really step out of their comfort zone,” she says. “They can develop that love of music. I’ll find kids who are not academically strong in here and they shine.”
Blair, who finished off her 19th year with the baton with a Great Teachers middle school honour, does her best to create a positive space without a lot of pressure to perform. “I’m not necessarily looking over their shoulder saying ‘do it this way or that way.’”
Doing things creatively has helped her attract much of the student body at Gordon Head to the band, strings and choir programs. Almost two-thirds – about 200 students – by her calculation.
“Music is cool. We’re definitely seeing an increase in participation.”
Asked how she gauges her own success, she first looks at the overall picture – “How did the band or the orchestra sound today or my ukulele class?” – then she considers individuals, as in, “Hey, that kid improvised today for the first time.”
Her creativity helped her solve a puzzle a few years back when faced with a Grade 6 dyslexic student who dearly wanted to play, but could not decipher sheet music.
She developed a unique colour-coded system whereby her student, now in Grade 8, could play his clarinet along with the rest of the band. The system has since seen Blair become a finalist for a national teaching award.
What former teacher was your inspiration? – “Mr. Creswick (Grade 6 band, Northern Alberta). He was the one that inspired me and supported me in everything I did in music. We remained friends for 28 years. Ironically, I’m teaching in the neighbourhood he grew up in. I’ve taught students whose parents were in the same band he was in at Mount Doug.”